News

1. Cabinet

Jennifer Henderson went to yesterday’s post-cabinet scrum. Click here to see what the cabinet ministers had to say.

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Henderson thinks the decision on the environmental assessment of Northern Pulp Mill’s proposed effluent treatment system and pipe into the Northumberland Strait could come as early as today. I joked that Environment Minister Gordon Wilson will call a press conference for 4pm right before the weekend, when most people’s attention is elsewhere. “A lot of people think that,” she said.

2. Buses and Uber

The venerable #1 Spring Garden. Photo by Michael Taylor.

This morning, the city issued a tender offer for “up to” 150 new 12.2 metre buses over the next three years. (These are the conventional sizes buses, not the longer 18-metre articulated buses.)

For context, there are about 325 buses in the existing fleet. Today’s tender offer reflects capital budgets already approved by council, and most of the new buses will be replacement buses, allowing older buses to be retired and therefore reducing maintenance costs. But a few will also be used to expand the number of bus lines and increase frequency.

It takes about a year and a half between ordering a bus and receiving it, so that’s why Transit issues three-year contracts. Transit is receiving 12 new buses this year from a previous contract.

People complain about transit, but to its credit Halifax council has been making good, if not great, incremental improvements to the system. There are more buses operating more frequently on more routes every year.

FWIW, I’ve ridden the bus every day for years from my Dartmouth home, and anecdotally, my experience has improved over the years. The crappy old “wait in a parking lot” Bridge Terminal has been replaced with a clean and warm facility, the buses to the peninsula run so often I don’t check the schedules, and darting around on the peninsula is a breeze.

Yet ridership numbers have not risen.

Definitely part of the problem is that management has little appreciation for the real-world experience of actually riding the bus, so it continues to make decisions that irk riders, like installing the slippery plastic seats and not fully thinking through route changes (for instance, there is extreme frustration with the consolidation of the old 80 and 81 routes into the new 8, creating very crowded buses all day long).

Still, I think much of the ridership problem is cultural. A lot of people simply can’t make the mental jump to taking the bus. Taking transit is seen as a step down socially. Until we get over that bias, I don’t know how we increase ridership numbers.

So, we’ve got modest improvements in the transit system overall, but an often boneheaded transit management and a good chunk of the public that is resistant to taking the bus regardless.

And now we’re set to pull the rug out from transit completely.

“Ride-hailing services like Uber are one stop closer to Halifax after a vote by council’s transportation committee in favour of proposed new regulations that also affect the city’s taxi industry,” reports Zane Woodford for Star Halifax:

At its meeting on Thursday, the committee voted unanimously in favour of the staff recommendation to draft bylaw amendments regulating taxi brokers and what municipal staff call transportation network companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft. The committee also tacked on some amendments designed to appeal to Uber’s concerns with the proposed rules.

The literature is pretty clear on this: Uber undermines public transit.

As Graham Rapier reports for Business Insider:

Ride-hailing effects are so substantial that, if the current trend continues, bus service in cities studied could be hit nearly 13% over the 8 years. And [University of Kentucky prof Gregory] Erhardt says it won’t be a problem easily fixed by just adding more buses on streets.

“We found that wasn’t the case, there’s something else going on” Erhardt said in an interview. “In order to offset the magnitude of this, you would need to increase bus service by about 20%, and a lot of transit agencies simply aren’t going to have the resources to do that.”

And even if its a faster, and sometimes possibly even cheaper, option than taking a bus — ride-hailing simply can’t replace public transit due to space constraints.

“When you take those people out of a bus and into an Uber,” said Erhardt, “You increase traffic and congestion for everyone, and even slow that original bus down.”

So, we’re making a substantial investment in buses — 150 new buses are going to cost in the neighbourhood of $35 million — just as we’re preparing to approve a plan that will reduce transit ridership.

Remember: Uber pays $0 in local taxes. It doesn’t even get a business permit that every mom-and-pop store in town needs in order to operate. It pays shit wages. And it increases congestion while undermining transit.

That’s a hell of a mayoral platform.

3. Mining report

Kayakers on the St. Mary’s River. Photo courtesy St. Mary’s River Association

CBC reporter Frances Willick points us to an economic impact report about the proposed Cochrane Hill gold mine prepared by Jozsa Management & Economics for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s. The report was released on December 6, and escaped my notice until now.

I’m very wary of economic impact reports because they’re mostly uncritical propaganda used to justify projects. This one, however, has an unusual nuance to it:

Willick writes:

[The report] found the mine would create about 345 direct, full-time jobs and 315 indirect jobs.

But the report found those jobs would likely be difficult to fill from within the municipality’s labour force. The area has an older population and a “large percentage” of the experienced labour force is 65 or older.

The report estimates that between 20 and 40 per cent of the direct jobs and just one to four per cent of the spinoff jobs would be taken by people in the municipality.

Despite the boon of new jobs, the mine would not create significant or sustainable new businesses, the report said, as the suppliers and contractors currently used by Atlantic Gold at its existing Touquoy operation could likely carry out the necessary work at Cochrane Hill.

… [But] The report calls the proposed mine a “potential threat” that could have a major negative impact on the area’s tourism and recreation sector due to possible light, dust and noise pollution, traffic and contaminant release into waterways.

“The mere existence of an open-pit mine operating in the area could act as a disincentive for tourists and potential seasonal residents,” the report noted.

Among the region’s tourist attractions are the Sherbrooke Village Museum and the St. Mary’s River, the report said.

The report gives a quick, and probably overly enthusiastic, view of the tourism industry (starting on page 34), noting that “the tourism GDP [in Nova Scotia] is larger than three of Nova Scotia’s primary industries combined, mining, agriculture and forestry.”

Still, my quick scan of the report doesn’t find any real appreciation of a potentially cataclysmic mining disaster, much less the simple long-run environmental damage we can expect from an open pit mine and the associated trucking and so forth around it. I’d like to see a real risk assessment undertaken.

4. Arson

Working fire ,Spencer Ave, Spryfield. Apartment building tenants have evacuated the building.@CTVAtlantic @C100FM pic.twitter.com/qGgQhYnE6n

— Carl Pomeroy (@CarlPomeroyCTV) December 12, 2019

A police release from yesterday:

Police have arrested a man in relation to a fire in Halifax that occurred earlier this morning

At approximately 7:45 a.m. police were called to assist Halifax Fire and emergency with a structure fire on Spencer Avenue in Halifax.

Information provided to police and fire investigators has led them to believe, the fire had been deliberately set.

At approximately 9:15 a.m. officers arrested a 35-year-old Halifax man at an address on Robie Street in Halifax.

The investigation is ongoing and at this point police anticipate laying charges.

5. Pedestrian struck

Another police release from yesterday:

Police have charged the driver in relation to a vehicle/pedestrian collision that occurred in Halifax this morning.

At approximately 8 a.m. police responded to a report of a collision between a school bus and a pedestrian at the intersection of Larry Uteck Boulevard and Southgate Drive in Halifax. The bus was turning left on to Southgate Drive and struck a pedestrian who was in a marked crosswalk.

The bus was not carrying any passengers at the time of the collision. The pedestrian, a 22-year-old Halifax woman, was attended to at the scene by paramedics.

The driver of the bus, a 25-year-old Halifax man, was issued summary offence tickets for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and for driving with an obstructed windshield (frost).

Clean your windshields, people.

Relatedly, yesterday Halifax Regional Police and Halifax RCMP released their monthly report on pedestrian incidents:

A total of 184 vehicle/pedestrian/bicycle collisions have been reported from January to October 2019 in Halifax Regional Municipality. Of the total collisions, 61 involved a bicycle or a scooter. The remaining 123 incidents were vehicle/pedestrian collisions, with 129 pedestrian victims.

Of the 129 pedestrian victims involved in reported collisions in 2019, there were:

  • 4 fatality
  • 5 experienced major injuries
  • 28 experienced moderate injuries
  • 44 experienced minor injuries
  • 46 experienced no injuries
  • 2 unknown

In those incidents, 38 drivers and eight pedestrians were ticketed.

Overall, the number of incidents from October is down this year (17) compared to the three previous years (27, 25, and 27), which is welcome, but there’s typically a big increase in November and December due to the time change, the shitty weather, and earlier sunset.


Views

1. Peace of mind

Halifax lawyer Barbara Darby continues to wander through Canada’s legal decisions, this time looking for cases related to contracts involving “peace of mind” judgments. She found a few, but here’s the bestest:

Brad and Michaela Chapman did not look back on their 1996 honeymoon with “undiluted pleasure.” Brad suggested they go on a “Dall sheep hunting trip in the Yukon.” Michaela was not a hunter. This sounds like a marriage off to quite a challenging start. As opportunities were scarce, they hurriedly booked a 12-day trip with the help of Brad’s brother, Brent.

Michaela viewed the trip with a “somewhat romanticized view and thought that hunting would definitely occupy a secondary role.” Brad wanted to bag sheep.

The Chapmans sued the outfitters for failure to provide the experience they expected:  Chapman v. Stricker. They flew to Whitehorse from BC, then flew to the basecamp, where Michaela stayed. Brad flew on to a second camp for the hunt. Basecamp had a cookhouse and cabins, but no electricity or running water.

Michaela was underwhelmed with being left behind by Brad, in horrible conditions. She claimed there was meat on the ground (likely a leftover bear-kill, the bear not having cleaned up), mouse turds in the cookshack, “some shelves were out of place” and cans of food were on the floor. She complained she couldn’t go out walking because there was possibly a bear in the area, although seeing a bear was on her honeymoon bucket list (note, not at the top of her list). The Court found that the conditions at basecamp were entirely in keeping with what was reasonable to expect and the camp was tidy and clean.

The story goes on to relate a character named “Yukon Bob” and various arguments about accommodations before getting to a particularly, er, problematic part of the honeymoon:

And the farting. Michaela complained that “the female guide was on a cabbage diet and broke wind in the presence of herself and others.” Apparently, Brad remonstrated with the guide about that. They were served too much game meat, what with being 300 miles from the nearest road.

And Michaela did not like the toilet facilities. Typically two wooden poles or “snorting poles” are positioned over a hole, but Yukon Bob set up a “grander structure in a grove of trees which provided both better seating and more privacy” for Michaela.

The cook had a nosebleed and blood fell into the frying pan. There was a moose’s head cooling in the creek, along with a sanitary pad.

Darby reports that despite the rocky start, Brad and Michaela went on to have an apparently successful marriage, although it was rocked by other legal actions and the unexpected and therefore tragic deaths of Brad and one their sons. Read the entire story.

2. Bagging sheep

An argali sheep.

Speaking of bagging sheep, the most recent Trump, Inc. podcast dives into Donald Trump, Jr.’s foray into Mongolia:

During a 2019 hunting trip, Donald Trump Jr. killed a rare argali sheep. The Mongolian government issued him a hunting permit retroactively and he met with the country’s president.


Government

No public meetings.


On campus

Nothing we know about today.

King’s

Sunday

A King’s Christmas (Sunday, Dec. 15, 4pm and 7:30pm, Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax) — featuring Old Man Luedecke! Tickets at the King’s Co-op Bookstore and here. More info here.


In the harbour

02:30: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
05:30: Viking Coral, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
06:00: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
06:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
10:30: Dalian Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
11:30: Viking Coral sails for sea
16:30: ZIM Vancouver sails for New York


Footnotes

I’m going to be checking my email repeatedly today for an announcement of a press conference by the Department of Environment.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I take a cab in Halifax a couple of times a year. They are usually fast, clean, and reliable. Of course, that’s just my experience, and I would not rely on a few personal experiences to determine whether or not so-called ride-sharing (i.e. unlicensed, unregulated service with a cool app and low-paid drivers) is good for the city.

    My one bad experience with cabs has been getting out to Rainbow Haven – somewhere that should have city bus service. The solution to inadequate public transit is better public transit, not some scheme cooked up by a silicon valley millionaire that provides an alternative to cabs, while paying drivers less, and has been financially unsustainable for almost ten years.

    As for how people should get around town, I don’t care – but I’m tired of heavily subsidizing private cars, since that’s by far the most expensive and most environmentally harmful method. We subsidize cars in various ways, including road construction and maintenance. Yes, buses and bicycles need roads too, but it’s the volume of private cars that make our roads large, costly, congested, and dangerous to other road users.

  2. I can tell you “Why Uber?”

    Because at 9pm on a Saturday night I was left standing freezing to death on a street corner while a cab company was incapable of getting a cab to me for an HOUR and fifteen minutes despite them assuring me it would be 15 minutes at most. Their driver was lost. His GPS wasn’t working properly. I wasn’t outside when it showed up (the first time, and YES I was). “Are you outside?” “Yes. No cab has driven by. Not in all that time. Not once.” “Our cab driver says you’re not outside”. “Yes, yes I am, and was. I’m standing here looking AT the street.” That was also the second and THIRD phonecall to the company. This is the FOURTH phonecall after 45 minutes. “Really? REALLY? I’m standing at the corner of X and Y. I’m looking AT the street signs. I’m standing UNDER them. I’m no longer at the address I said I was at, I’ve now walked out to the road and I’m standing at the corner.” “He says you’re not there.” [I’m now talking to a supervisor.] “I’m one block from street Z down the hill UNDER the street signs for X and Y. I’m in FRONT of the address I said I was at standing AT the street corner that’s fifty feet away from the address.” “Oh, the driver says you’re not at that address.” “I am. I’m right at that address no standing in the MIDDLE of the ROAD. There ARE no cars anywhere.” “Oh, the driver says he’s not at that corner.” “I KNOW he’s not. But THAT is the corner in FRONT of the street address”. “The driver’s GPS is wrong. The driver says he’ll be there soon.” Soon? SOON?? One hour and FIFTEEN minutes and FOUR phone calls. Four.

    That’s why “Uber”. Because I can call a cab here and have NOTHING approaching reliability or timeliness. Because I can call a cab and have to divert to an ATM to take out cash because their Interac isn’t working. Because on UBER I can track where the car coming IS and I can communicate with the driver directly. Because I’ve used UBER all over North America without the problems I’ve had with cabs in Halifax. Because I never have to worry about PAYING the driver. Because I know what the trip will cost.

    That’s why UBER. Because sometimes I’m nowhere near a bus stop and I want to get somewhere quickly. Because the city changed the bus routes so my 10 minute transit trip to work is now 50-55 minutes. So the “transit” system, in the middle of the city, quintupled my commute to and from work time (ya, the APP says 35-40 minutes, but somehow it’s never been that). So, ya, UBER. Because the cabs in Halifax can’t be trusted and because the transit system no longer works for me. Nor is it going to apparently.

    So Uber. And it’s about freaking time.

    1. Your comment raises several issues – who are the drivers, and do they have the requisite knowledge of the street names and locations in metro ?
      My answer would be : some do and too many don’t.
      Driving behind a taxi is quite an experience now, a sudden change of lane combined with a reduction in speed to a crawl when the driver realizes he is going in the wrong direction.

      1. A few years ago, I took a taxi to go get my car from the Canadian Tire on Quinpool road – normally I would walk, but the weather was horrible and I needed my car early the next morning.

        The driver was a young man whose thick accent made it obvious he was a recent immigrant, who was so new to the city he didn’t know what “The Canadian Tire on Quinpool” meant. No problem. Before I could even start giving him directions, he had his smartphone out looking it up.

        Unless, for some reason, we elect a mayor who really likes London and wants to impose similar standards on taxi drivers, all a taxi driver needs to function in Halifax, or anywhere else is to speak English and know how to drive.

  3. The totalitarian left, of which you seem to be some sort of commissar, is morally certain it knows how Haligonians should transport themselves around the city. Feet, bicycles, public buses good; cars, trucks, ride shares bad. But when the public fails to heed your lectures and flocks instead to methods you disapprove, your response is to artificially degrade the public’s preferred alternatives. Reconfigure roadways so as to inconvenience drivers and create artificial traffic jams. Speed up the trip home for suburban commuters riding subsidized buses by removing parking spaces that help struggling small businesses survive on Gottigen. Ban Uber, and protect century-old taxi oligopolies that use antique dispatch systems, glacial “service,” and decrepit, dirty, inaccessible cars. Such is the way of the Comintern: if you will not see what’s good for you, we will MAKE YOU SEE!

    1. Uber is a taxi service – car hire if you will, not a ride share. As someone who seems in love with his own prose one should avoid such equivocation.

  4. Surely it’s all of a piece.

    The idea is to cut service to low growth areas like Beaver Bank then have them call up Uber so they can actually get to a bus stop.

    Interesting the “citizen survey” on Uber was only online (Uber is an online service exclusively – no phone calls allowed). I wonder if residents of Beaver Bank even knew about the survey let alone if they were canvassed for their opinion.

  5. Okay so I get it. As usual, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing — invest in Transit on one hand and undermine it on the other. But, frankly, recent cuts in Transit to so-called ‘low density’ or ‘low growth’ areas that had historic service (like the Purcell’s Cove and Beaverbank Road areas), leaves these communities severely underserviced. This will require creative solutions that Transit simply cannot or will not provide. So why shouldn’t council support Uber or other ride hailing services to fill those gaps? I could certainly use Uber out here in Purcell’s Cove, as the bus does not run past 7 p.m. now — so, yes, I’ll be telling my councillor, bring on Uber so that we have an affordable way to get groceries and get in and out of the city when the 415 bus is not running (it only runs at around 40% of its former timetable — but we are still paying the same transit taxes as before). Or, instead of inviting Uber in, maybe we need new community-based and community-operated ride sharing services as a form of local social enterprise — what about some start-up or incentive funds for that, Mr. Mayor?

  6. Uber took all of 10 minutes yesterday and the media were all over it whilst ignoring all the people who showed up to talk about lack of transit in Beaverbank and inconvenient connections to downtown Halifax.
    The real story was missed because Uber is all about peninsula Halifax and reporters showed up to cover that issue only to find the gallery packed with people who wanted to talk about lousy or non-existent service elsewhere.

  7. “Remember: Uber pays $0 in local taxes. It doesn’t even get a business permit that every mom-and-pop store in town needs in order to operate. It pays shit wages. And it increases congestion while undermining transit.”

    At least in this case, the City’s plan is to require a $25,000 fee and a $0.20/ride surcharge.